Making the Original Evidence Available
The Historical Violence database will be most effective when it allows scholars to view the original sources in their entirety and draw their own conclusions, unimpeded by the assumptions of previous scholars. That will require digitizing the original sources, which can be done easily with scanners and inexpensive digital cameras available today.
The advantages of making digital images of original documents are so pronounced that we believe all researchers should make permanent digital copies of the documents they uncover. Making digital copies enhances the speed of information gathering. Scholars generally have limited time to work at archives, to which they may have traveled a substantial distance at great expense. Their time is much better spent acquiring images, rather than transcribing information or filling in spreadsheets. Moreover, digital images are compressible and easily transportable. Scholars can enter data, check for errors, add additional variables that they had not previously considered, or re-read and transcribe testimony at leisure from a computer screen. And images made even with inexpensive cameras can be enlarged on screen, often making them easier to read than the originals.
With the support of the Harry Frank Guggenheim Foundation, Douglas L. Eckberg undertook a pilot digitization project in 2005-6. To view samples of his photographs of the Charleston, South Carolina, coroner's books, please see:
Inquest on Shadrach Gadsden [zip] (Zip file of JPEG files)
Inquest on Frank Mike [zip] (Zip file of JPEG files)
To view all of Eckberg's image files of Charleston's records, please see:
At this time, the full archive records for Charleston County for the years 1877-1912 are available on the HVD Web site, including a 70-page MS-Word index and nearly 7,000 separate JPEG images.
Eckberg began with fairly expensive, bulky equipment but eventually adopted a small, $300 camera (a Canon A-610) and a simple, inexpensive copy stand (a BENK WSA-102). Eckberg did not use supplemental lighting: the ambient light in the archives and court houses he visited was sufficient.
Digitizing can of course be performed by a variety of means. The Canon MS 300, for instance, can digitize microfilm, either as Adobe Acrobat files (pdfs) or as photos (jpegs). The HVD has used the Canon MS 300 scanner to digitize the Homicide Reports of the New Orleans Police Department, 1898-1913. To view the image files of the reports, see:
We hope that these files will be moved soon to the New Orleans Public Library website, which holds the original documents.